This College Degree Is Brought To You By Amazon

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Oakland University didn’t top Matthew Henry’s list when he started hunting for colleges in Michigan to attend. But one visit to the spacious campus, situated on a serene 1,400-acre estate donated by the heiress to the Dodge auto-making fortune, sold him on the school.

Four years after making that decision, the 21-year-old senior is capping an education made possible, in significant part, by a corporate behemoth from another part of the world. German industrial giant Siemens AG provided software, instruction, curriculum, technical support and sophisticated gadgetry to make Mr. Henry and his fellow Industrial and Systems Engineering classmates fluent in some of the most used tools in the profession they aim to pursue.

“Siemens has no doubt played a bigger role than I gave much thought to before starting,” Mr. Henry says. He came to find out that his chosen focus would require learning what is equivalent to a software language. Siemens’ “Tecnomatix” digital manufacturing programs are a fixture in Oakland’s department.

Robert Van Til, director of Oakland’s Industrial and Systems Engineering program, says experiences like Mr. Henry’s are a meaningful template for future students of design, engineering and other sciences. While companies have long provided grants, engaged in joint research, funded scholarships, and offered internships or apprenticeships, an era of close-knit working relationships between companies and undergraduates in classrooms at four-year universities is now getting under way.

. . . .

Tim Sands, the president of Virginia Tech, says that student experience with real-world corporate problems will become table stakes in the job market in years to come. Students “really need to be embedded within an employer that has real-life problems, and to look at how they solve those problems,” he says.

Mr. Sands has welcomed several corporate partners to Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg, including Qualcomm Inc., Caterpillar Inc. and General Electric Co. New initiatives require students to spend extensive time working on the actual riddles companies are trying to solve to get a degree.

Partnerships like this remain somewhat rare, Mr. Van Til says, but they are a hot subject at education conferences. “There’s a real push to get academic programs to actually take the tools like these and integrate them.”

Elizabeth Popp Berman, a University of Michigan professor of organizational studies and author of “Creating the Market University,” says there have long been critics of corporate meddling in four-year universities. Often, funding from companies for research or other academic pursuits comes with strings attached, she says.

Corporate involvement in curriculum may also narrow the skills that students pursue, ignoring information or career pathways that may not apply to a company’s business.

But colleges are more open to corporate partnerships as budgets are squeezed and student debt loads rise, Ms. Berman says. “The tighter the budget the institution has, the more open they are going to be,” she says. “It’s hard to reject this support outright because of the position the students are in.” Companies also offer deep-pocketed support for a “practical applied model” that doesn’t break the bank, she says.

The Siemens partnership, partially funded by the company, has been on Oakland’s campus for a decade and serves hundreds of students. They have used the partnership to complete projects at hospitals, banks and aerospace companies. To set up a facility like the Siemens lab where Mr. Henry studies would cost a university hundreds of thousands of dollars, not including steep licensing fees for software and tech support.

“We’re not asking them to create a factory or our employees for the future,” says Barbara Humpton, the CEO of Siemens’ U.S. operations. Siemens isn’t necessarily hiring all the students who use its tools in class, she says, but it expects those students could work for Siemens customers or suppliers.

Caterpillar, International Business Machines Corp. and Inc. have implemented similar efforts. A company’s branding on curriculum and classroom instruction is often unmistakable.

Students at Cal Poly University’s Digital Transformation Hub walk through a door proclaiming the department is “powered by AWS,” short for the Amazon Web Services cloud-computing product. Here, students participate in the AWS Cloud Innovation Center, about a dozen of which are embedded at schools around the country.

Instead of being a classic sponsorship, like an advertising deal at the university’s football stadium, programs like the Cloud Innovation Center are staffed by Amazon employees, bringing Amazon business principles into formal education. In this case, students interested in solving public-sector problems learn how to think like an Amazon employee; the company’s leadership principles, such as “customer obsession,” are taught in college workshops.

Paul Jurasin, director of the Hub, says the partnership is designed “to provide our students with learn-by-doing activities.” Amazon funds the operation but knows that most who go through it will use Amazon Web Services as clients or in outside organizations instead of as Amazon employees, a spokeswoman says.

. . . .

A task force assembled by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities found in 2017 that such relationships are becoming more attractive as institutions look “to attract the resources, relationships and recognition necessary for these institutions to be competitive in an environment marked by declining state funding and continued questions on the value proposition of public higher education.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Nothing exactly to do with books, but PG thinks these sort of educational activities would have been much less boring than most of his college classes were.

4 thoughts on “This College Degree Is Brought To You By Amazon”

  1. Without naming names, one of the big e-companies has a local office. As part of that, they are on constant recruiting/onboarding for computer science majors. But they found that they were getting neither the right skill sets nor the right diversity of applicant, so they partnered with a local university. They worked with them to define a “Acme curriculum” i.e. went through and said, “Of all the courses you have, we’d like our graduates to have x, y, z courses” as part of their core plus whatever electives they choose.

    Then they went to work picking high-school students like tuition scholarships, except they get paid, in the summers they work for the company FT and parttime in the school year, and have two “supervisors” in the dept. A regular supervisor for work and an academic supervisor who basically makes sure work doesn’t interfere in getting their school work done and their degree.

    When they graduate from university, there’s a payback period like the army often has, I think it is 1:1 years (so four for an undergraduate honors degree) and at the end they can work wherever they want. Of course, by that time, they’re thoroughly indoctrinated with a company that picked them, paid htme, and who they have worked for already 8 years. It’s too soon to count the retention rate, but it is expected to be pretty high, not to mention they can have a more diverse workforce going in…many of the typical barriers that screen out certain applicants before they ever graduate are removed by paying them the whole time with a guaranteed job at the end.

    Lots of people LOVE the model. I think back to my graduation from high school and I was nowhere near ready to make that kind of lifetime commitment. But it has it’s appeal. And the people are coming out knowing they are job-ready.


    • Lots of companies in other tech fields have had similar programs for decades.
      If you search online for “engineering coop student program” you’ll find them by the dozen.
      Like this one:

      At the day job there is no “payback” period–students are free to drop out or switch to a different company at any time, even at graduation, but few if any do. It has to do with the mindset of the typical engineering student and the nature of the profession. Academics at the Ivory Tower Universities like Yale typically look down at Engineering for being too “vocational” but that is precisely why Engineering draws in their students. It is also why the vast majority of engineers head to the work force after their BS and few (US) engineering students stay for advanced degrees.

      It takes a specific mindset to be a STEMer of any category but engineers in general are pretty much born with the outlook it requires. Few if any come from other disciplines and most know exactly what they want to be becore college. Mind you, most engineers switch jobs once in their first five years, but that is more about finding a job that suits them.

      As for companies designing student curricula for their coops, that is new-ish, and probably specific to IT to weed out the theoretically inclined (future computer science PhD researchers) from the practically minded entrepreneurial types. Both are necessary but what tbose companies need are the production-focused. That they need to go and steer high school students into these careers is a reflection of the massive disconnect between the american educational system and the real world of the 21st century. The entire system is horribly designed and useless to prepare students for life. For starters, they need more career counselors and less administrators. They also need to stop hiring only “teaching experts” and bring in instructors with real world experience in the subject matter, preferably in STEM. Mind you, the shortage of the latter is endemic but there are plenty of older practitioners willing and able to help that are prevented because tbey don’t have the oh-so-valuable certificate that qualifies them to teach anything at any time anywhere.
      Yeah, right.

      Oh, well. Disfunctional says it all.
      The rise of home schooling and corporate academies and programs like the OP has found expain it best. They’ll continue to expand until the already hostile teacher unions convince the politicians to ban the practice.

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